Sunday, November 8, 2009

Paradigm shift

How can the church better proclaim the truth of God’s Word?

How can students better understand the message of the Bible?

How can the Bible be used for evangelical mission around the Globe?

I ask myself questions like this often as I teach and preach from the Bible both from the pulpit and from the University classroom. For more than 20 years I have been attempting to discern and fulfill the call of God on my life to extend the mission of God’s in-breaking love to and for the world.

I believe with the direction of the Spirit of God in continuing the mission of God, the church needs to make the Word of God made known in the Bible more easily accessible to all people – and particularly to new converts.

We live in a “tweet-filled” world where people communicate with 140 words or less – where IM chat is truncated to the smallest forms possible. LOL, TTYL, BRB – become the content of our communication one to another. We know intuitively (and psychological counseling can confirm) that the shortest and must truncated forms of communication are not the *best* ways to discern or know people. Relationships are developed and fostered in deep ways with real conversations about extended matters of truth. I believe we need less of the short tweets about the Bible, and more people reading with integrity the entire message of the Bible!

Year in and year out I read and see new books written about the Bible. As a scholar myself, I know that each year hundreds upon hundreds of books are being translated for missional efforts around the world, and each year, new books are being published by scholars on issues of “minutiae” in the Bible, while each new year sees its own versions of and rearticulations of something like The Bible for Dummies!

Additionally, less frequently but nevertheless importantly, over periods of decades we are introduced to new translations of the Bible that attempt to help us discern its message better – from the KJV to the NRSV, NIV and The Message!

And while I certainly applaud all efforts for us to better understand the fundamental evangelical message of God’s Good News in all these forms . . . I wonder if we haven’t missed out on something quite fundamental, that might have the potential to cause a “sea-change” for how we see (and read and study and discern) the Bible.

We write more and more books *about* the Bible, but I want people to better understand *the* Bible! Not in tweet form. Not in explained form. Not in a textbook. But, I want people to understand *the* Bible.

The Bible was not written with chapters, nor verses. I believe most of us know this about the Bible. And, in order to be good students of this text that we care so deeply about, we study diligently the chapter and verses that have been used to help us organize the Bible. For nearly 500 years (but not even for 500 years) the Bible has come to us with the verses that help us discern its organization.

We benefit from the chapters and verses so that we can have relevant and important conversations about the truth of the Bible that is communicated to us. It is helpful to know what is written in John 3:16 – and it does help us to have memorized all the verses from the “Romans Road to Salvation” as we evangelize.

But, the Bible was not originally written in *these* chapter and verses – nor in the “thought units” that comprise the current chapter and verses that we have. While the chapter and verses are hugely important to *us* in how *we* study and read the Bible – they are not the patterns of organization or thought of the original writers (or later editors!) of the Bible. The chapter and verses are late additions to the central message of the Bible!

Think about it in this way – for more than 1500 years with the New Testament – and longer than that with the Old Testament – the truth of the Bible – the message of the Bible and its relevance for culture was understood and interpreted without the chapter/verse divisions – by simply discerning the thoughts and the message of the Bible for what it said!

About 500 years ago we willingly accepted the new paradigm shift – to read the Bible in our various native languages, translated, with chapter and verse notes. And this has served the church, pastors, laypersons, missionaries, scholars, and new converts very well! The chapter and verse divisions help us read the Bible and discern information and talk about what the Bible says across its many books.

But – the internal logic and thought patterns of the different Biblical books were not written with *these* chapter and verse “divisions” and in some ways these “divisions” “divide” up the Bible in ways that make the Bible harder to read. That is, some of the chapter and verse divisions actually break-up the natural thought patterns of any given Biblical book, story, parable, or argument of the Bible.

When a person reads the Bible, the chapter and verse “divisions” help – but, they could help in less divisive ways *if* we edited and revised the current chapter/verse divisions that we use.

The paradigm shift that included the use of chapter and verses helped us 500 years ago – and still helps us today – but, the message of the could be more effectively communicated for what the individual books of the Bible say if we adapt and change the current chapter and verses that we now currently use.

We know that the chapter and verses of the Bible break up the natural stories/parables/arguments of the books – and we have worked around these for years – but it is time – for the sake of evangelical mission – that we change the chapter and verses that we use in the Bible. I am aware, of course, that scholars will not easily and simply agree on how to best re-verse the biblical books – since opinions vary on precise patterns of how any Biblical book was/is organized! But, I believe a team of evangelically minded, spirit directed scholars could re-verse the Bible toward a better system of organizing the thoughts/logic of any book – toward better sharing the message of the Bible!

We, who are so familiar with the chapters and verses of the Bible as they currently exist, might seem troubled by this idea – we like reading the Bible the way we have always read the Bible! But, if we take time to re-think the chapters and verses in the Bible, we might be able to better allow ALL people – old persons of faith and new converts – a better ability to discern, learn, and memorize the logic of each of the individual books.

It is time to reverse the trend of mis-reading the Bible with un-natural chapter and verse divisions, and re-verse the Bible for better understanding and for evangelical mission.

Instead of writing additional books *about* the Bible in order to help people understand it – what if we *just* re-versed the Bible using the inherent logic of each book to help us understand it better!

Perhaps it is time to shift our paradigms – re-verse the Bible – and expand our evangelical mission.

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